School on Columbus Day? (Teacher Answered)

Columbus Day is one of the holidays that is not strictly observed in the United States, though it is among the eleven official federal holidays, giving most national government employees the day off. But what about school on Columbus Day? As a teacher, I know that not all schools take Columbus Day off.

The schedule for school on Columbus Day varies from the type of school, to the state it’s in, and year to year, mainly because of historical controversy. This means parents, students, and other interested people need to check their specific school to find out if it is open or closed on Columbus Day.

Find out more from this article as I will take you through everything you need to know about schools on Columbus Day. You’ll also get a clear picture of those who celebrate this day and those that don’t, and why.

As a veteran teacher with experience in multiple areas, I can share in inside view. And to learn more, you might want to check out this book on Columbus Day, available at Amazon, once finished with the article.


What Does Columbus Day Mean? An Overview-

Despite some people’s agenda to discredit Christopher Columbus, his accomplishments led to the development of the United States and thus, he’s afforded a ‘day’ of celebration.

Columbus Day is a US holiday celebrating the arrival of Columbus in America, and the ensuing accomplishments. The national holiday was made official by President Roosevelt in 1937, and was later designated to the second Monday in October. Though it’s a federal holiday, it is not observed in every state.

Columbus Day was at first designated on October 12th, but in 1971 it became officially the second Monday in October.

At first, Columbus Day was celebrated by those with national connections like Italian Americans. But over the years, it was honored by most Americans. That is, until some attributed certain negative effects of his voyages on Native Americans at the time.

Regardless, even at it’s height of celebration, it’s always been considered more of a minor holiday. Parades and store advertisements and discounts are often part of the remembrance but it’s certainly not like the big festivities of Memorial or Independence Days or the family gatherings of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

To a lot of people, thought, the day honors the accomplishments of Columbus and commemorates the origin of an Italian America. As well, because of Columbus’ devotion to Catholicism, the Catholic Church has always honored Columbus Day, too.

Many alternatives to Columbus Day have been recommended since the seventies. This comprises ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’ which is observed in several cities and states in the United States too, either on Columbus Day, the day before or after Columbus Day, or in connection to Thanksgiving Day.

You might also like these Columbus Day articles:

Is Columbus Day a No School Day?

Many parents are surprised nowadays at the possibility of school on Columbus Day since years before it was typically closed. This is because most school calendars are closely aligned with federal holidays. However, not all schools are closed.

Columbus Day is a no-school day for some areas, while others have a regular schedule on Columbus Day. It is often tied to local and state politics and trends. For instance, most schools in suburbs and the south honor Columbus Day with a day off, while larger cities and states like California don’t. 

As for the private educational institutions, the observance may be distinct regardless of area.

For example, I worked in public charter schools in Los Angeles for years. While my school was open (with a regular schedule for teachers and middle and high schoolers) where I worked/taught, my kids’ private preschool in the same area was closed.

Needless to say, it posed a challenge as a working mom at the time (I actually brought the younger kids to school with me, with ‘special’ permission from my principal! Hey, she was willing to make allowances so that I wouldn’t take a sub day!) And it seemed odd for our place of living that some schools were open while others were closed.

So again, it’s necessary to check with your specific location about whether the school is open or closed on Columbus Day.

Do Kids Go To School On Columbus Day? 

Some kids go to school on Columbus Day while others have a break. This depends on the district involved. As well, some schools that do close for Columbus Day often provide a ‘day care school’ for working parents to utilize while regular school is closed.

However, many times teachers attend school even if kids have the holiday. Often teachers do professional training on days like this where the holiday is minor and not everyone is used to having the day off.

And again, in most places, despite ‘federal holiday’ status, many people are working on Columbus Day. This makes having school out for kids very inconvenient for families.

Nevertheless, the schools that often choose not to close do so for other reasons, not to support families. Usually the reason is connected to supporting Native Americans. However, to be perfectly honest, being open or closed at school does nothing one way or the other for Native Americans.

The states or regions that have consistently recognized Columbus Day with closing schools include Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, and surprisingly, New York among others. And even in other states, it can vary from district to district.

Where I worked in southern Virginia, students usually had the day off while teachers had a ‘teacher work day’ on Columbus Day. In contrast, however, in the Northern Virginia district where I taught for seven years (a very liberal area, mind you) our schools and school offices were typically closed on Columbus Day. Go figure!

In Oregon, lots of years can pass without a majority of people even realizing that it is Columbus day as they don’t even talk about it.

In Tennessee, Columbus Day is honored officially on the day after Thanksgiving, that Friday. Thus, for this reason, many school districts in Tennessee ignore the federal designation in October and let that ‘Black Friday’ holiday stand for Columbus Day too.

The main thing to keep in mind regarding Columbus Day is that you have to check locally for your school whether or not you’ll be expected to attend classes since it varies so much.

Schools function as usual on Columbus day in Florida. Just as the stock market, courts, federal and state offices, the schools are always open as they don’t take an off on this day.

Do Colleges Have Class On Columbus Day?

Some colleges have classes on Columbus Day while others take an off day, like with K-12 schools. This means it’s necessary to check the college calendar ahead of time to plan your day. Most colleges in Massachusetts, for instance, observe Columbus Day since it’s considered a state holiday.

Some examples of colleges with a regular day on Columbus Day:

  • LSU
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Princeton University
  • UCLA

Some colleges that observe Columbus Day with a day off:

  • Catholic University of America
  • Boston University for Indigenous People’s Day
  • NYU as a ‘fall break’
  • Marymount University as a ‘fall break’

It seems most colleges are quite selective about days off considering the academic calendar is shorter than K-12; as well, colleges often operate on quarters to fit in more classes. All of this plays into what days are off for holidays. Those that seem to observe Columbus Day with a day off are often not actually observing Columbus Day, but rather using that day for a fall break. This way they can ignore the controversy altogether.

Who Gets Columbus Day off?

The number of those who get Columbus Day off varies from place to place, depending on whether it’s commonly observed in the area. Federal employees have the day off and so do those who work at banks, credit unions, and the Post Office. Some schools are closed too, but check your area to be sure.

However, even for those who celebrate or honor Columbus, it’s a minor holiday, so most stores and retail industries are open as normal. You can also expect public transportation to maintain a normal schedule and run as typical for any other day.

As for the federal workers, they do get paid for the off and they do not have to deliver the mails. And again, since federal offices do not operate, a majority of the bond and bank markets trading in the American debt will also close. However, the stock market is still open as are many other businesses and retailers. 

Apart from that, there are still places that take time to honor or remember Columbus. Those cities that as his namesake for instance, as well as places with a high Italian population, honor the day with parades, bands, and other events.

To Celebrate or Not Celebrate Columbus Day?

Whether or not to celebrate Columbus Day depends on your motivation. Catholics honor Columbus because he was religiously devout and many Protestants honor Columbus for his Christian faith, too. Still others choose to honor Columbus on Columbus Day because of his effects on trade and navigation.

There are lots of reasons why many think Columbus Day should not be celebrated, to be clear. The status of the explorer has grown dark in the recent past as some have tried to discredit his reputation and attribute negative consequences to his travels and discoveries.

What States Do Not Celebrate Columbus Day?

More than ten states do not celebrate Columbus day. For instance, Wisconsin, Washington D.C., North Carolina, Michigan, Hawaii, and others choose to not observe, despite its federal holiday designation. Some communities in Oklahoma observe Native American Day instead of this holiday on Columbus Day. 

Others opt to name the day in respect of their tribes. States like Maine, Ohio, and California recommended legislation to replace Columbus Day lawfully. When it comes to local government, Los Angeles already authorized replacing the day years ago. 

But again, as someone who taught in LA for years, I know for a fact that some LA districts are open (there are many school districts in greater Los Angeles) while others close for Columbus Day.

Moreover, Washington, D.C. also voted to change this day temporarily. Some of the states like Washington State, Tennessee, and California commemorate a different day for Columbus Day.

What does the Church Say about Columbus Day?

Many Catholic parishes have special Columbus Day Masses.

The Catholic Church honors Columbus Day typically with a special Mass on the second Monday in October. The Knights of Columbus, the largest men’s group of lay people in the Catholic Church, is even named for Christopher Columbus.

The Catholic church we attended in Northern Virginia even included a stained-glass window of Christopher Columbus in the parish sanctuary.

In the words of Pope Leo XIII, “…Columbus is ours…since …. it is indubitable that the Catholic faith was the strongest motive for the inception and prosecution” of the explorer’s voyage.

Wrapping Up School On Columbus Day

To wrap it all up, let’s conclude by saying families must check their local school to know for sure if it’s open or closed on Columbus Day.

It varies greatly from city to city and state to state, but even if trends are to not celebrate Columbus Day, there are often a school or two in the area that still does.

For about Columbus Day, I recommend reading these articles:

Sources: Times Record News

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